For a woman who has supposedly, allegedly and ostensibly been “sidelined,” Kellyanne Conway is suddenly about as high-profile as you can get.
In little more than 12 hours, she appeared on “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends,” gave a kickoff speech at CPAC and did a bunch more interviews at the conservative conference.
It says something about our modern media culture—and perhaps about backbiting among Trump advisers—that Conway’s absence from the airwaves for a single week could be construed as evidence of being in some imaginary doghouse. Kellyanne remains what she was during the campaign she managed, President Trump’s most visible and effective spokeswoman.
“It’s a ridiculous story,” said White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, referring to a CNN report citing unnamed sources as saying Conway had been yanked from the airwaves. “She has several media appearances this week and has been focused on prep for the upcoming joint session speech” to Congress. “Kellyanne is a key member of the president’s staff, which is another reason this story is so absurd.”
The White House counselor was equally dismissive with Sean Hannity, saying that “somebody’s trying to start up trouble” and that “folks are trying to use me as clickbait and a headline.” TV appearances, Conway noted, are only 5 percent of her job. She has actually been trying to reduce her TV workload.
Then she pointed out the real reason she slipped a bit off the public radar: “I’m out with four kids for three days looking at houses and schools. A lot of my colleagues aren’t trying to figure out how to be a mother of four kids, I assure you.”
In the blood sport of Washington, critics sometimes forget that political figures are real people with actual lives. Conway is in the process of arranging for her New Jersey-based family to join her here.
To be sure, Conway had a rough spell when she referred several times, most prominently on MSNBC, to a non-existent Bowling Green massacre. But she wasn’t trying to convince people of something that didn’t happen; she was referring to two Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green who were convicted of aiding Al Qaeda’s efforts to kill American soldiers. Conway, who told me that she “misspoke,” corrected the mistake as soon as it was called to her attention.
She also drew widespread criticism for urging people in a Fox interview to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing line after it was dropped by Nordstrom. The White House said she had been “counseled” about the matter. Detractors seized on the two incidents to question her credibility.
The CNN report pointed to Conway having said on MSNBC on Feb. 13 that Michael Flynn had the “full confidence” of the president, who fired him as national security adviser late that night. But anyone who thinks that Conway was going rogue doesn’t understand how this White House works. She was offering the guidance she was given in a highly fluid situation in which Flynn had been hanging on during days of controversy. The next morning, Conway appeared on several morning shows to discuss the situation at Trump’s request.
Have their ever been such harsh and sustained attacks on a White House official over the way that person defended the president? Conway, along with Sean Spicer, the press secretary, who is also on the front lines with the media, has been brutally mocked on “Saturday Night Live.” As a woman, even her fashion choices have drawn flak.
Unlike the president, who describes major news organizations as the “enemy of the American people,” Conway doesn’t use harsh language against the press. But she is in some ways caught in a crossfire between journalists and a boss who thrives on attacking them.